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Data vs atta, petrol, LPG: How dirt-cheap mobile internet contrasts with surging food, fuel prices

Analysis of govt data shows that while price of mobile data is one-twentieth of what it was 6 yrs ago, LPG price is up 73%, atta prices up by over 28%.

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New Delhi: While Prime Minister Narendra Modi was correct to point out that the price of mobile data in India has crashed over the past few years, it is also important to note that the prices of other essentials such as food and fuel have shot up over the same period.

While launching 5G services in the country on 2 October, the Prime Minister claimed that while the cost of 1 GB data was about Rs 300 earlier, it has now come down to about Rs 10 per GB.

He also pointed out that an average person consumes about 14 GB of data per month, which earlier would have cost Rs 4,200, but now costs only Rs 125-150 per month.

Analysis by ThePrint of data from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) for the period June 2016 to March 2022 — the period for which such data is available — shows that the price of mobile data has indeed fallen sharply.

While a GB of data on average cost Rs 200 in the March-June 2016 quarter, it fell to about one-twentieth of that at Rs 10.47 per GB by March 2022.

In tandem with this price fall, the usage of mobile internet grew substantially. TRAI maintains a larger database for internet usage, which shows that the average mobile data usage per subscriber per month grew from just 0.06 GB in December 2013 to 15.8 GB in March 2022, a growth of more than 263 times.

It is interesting to note that the impact of Reliance Jio, launched in September 2016, can immediately be seen in the subsequent rapid growth in data usage, most likely an outcome of its aggressive marketing strategy at the time.

Over the same period, TRAI data shows that the number of mobile subscribers — already a substantial 88.6 crore in December 2013 — grew to 114.2 crore by March 2022, although there has been a plateauing in recent years.


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Other essentials costlier

This trend of plummeting data prices is certainly worth celebrating, as is India’s development of indigenous 5G technology.

A comparison of all these elements — mobile data, food, transport fuel, and cooking fuel — is not meant to undermine the achievements in the telecom industry but to merely put them in context.

The all-India average price of atta (wheat flour) — a proxy for how food prices are faring — climbed from Rs 24.6 per kg in June 2016 to Rs 31.7 per kg by March 2022, according to data from the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution.

Looking at a longer time-period, the price has moved from Rs 23.8 per kg in January 2014 to Rs 36.9 per kg in September 2022, a 55 per cent increase.

The price of petrol has similarly seen a sharp rise, due in large part to the global price of oil.

Where a litre of petrol in Delhi cost Rs 65.65 in June 2016, according to the database of the Petroleum Planning & Analysis Cell, it cost Rs 101.81 by March 2022. The price has currently eased marginally to Rs 96.72 per litre.

While food and transport fuel are important elements of any household’s budget, cooking fuel also features as a significant drain on the pocket.

The price of a 14.2 kg cylinder of LPG in the national capital increased from Rs 548.5 in June 2016 to Rs 949.5 in March 2022, data from the Indian Oil Corporation shows. The price is currently even higher, at Rs 1,053 per cylinder.

(Edited by Theres Sudeep)


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